When I was a child I loved to climb trees. Not just any tree and not just any place. The trees that I liked to climb were the really big ones, broad of stature and majestic in their leafy canopy. I would look for the perfect tree in the perfect place, preferably somewhere at the edge of the woods or a field that would offer me a spectacular view no matter which way I looked.
But that wasn’t the only reason I loved to climb trees. You see, I am a voracious reader, and as a child I couldn’t stop reading. I grew up in a very small town where the public library was a short distance by bike from my house. I was a frequent visitor and to this day can still remember the comforting feeling when I walked in and smelled all those books! I was the kid who, when given the summer reading list for school, attempted to read every book on the list in every category. I would bike to the library, take out six or eight books at a time, and would proceed to devour each and every one, most often perched between two branches high in a tree.
What I would have given for a proper Treehouse, instead of precariously hanging on between branches! Now many years later, the students at MSD will have just that. MSD’s new Treehouse, constructed in and around our most beautiful tree on campus, will offer our students a wonderful array of choices. Whether it is the most spectacular view of all the activity our athletic field and outdoor patio has to offer, or it is just the right place to climb up, sit back and just be, I know that it will be just right for diving into a terrific book. You may just find me there on any given day doing just that.
One of the best things about being Head of School is witnessing the transformation of the children each year. When I arrived at MSD with my own children 20 years ago, they were of the typical age when young families join the MSD community. With my five year old, three year old, and six month old in tow, I thought that the school I had found, on the corner of Florida and Holly, was amazing. Not just because of the educational philosophy, but also because it wasn’t just one building, but a whole campus!
Back in 1993, MSD looked vastly different, with its two carlines: one that ran in the front of the school and one that ran in the back, with a playground right smack in the middle. The school’s enrollment was 240 students with a small Upper Elementary program that included third grade. Lower Elementary was just two classrooms. All extra programs or specials were located in an old Masonic lodge, dubbed the Community Building (now the Upper Elementary/Middle School Building). I remember my first Back to School Night, sitting in a circle, in red velvet chairs, looking directly at the parents across the way, while the Head of School at the time stood in the center like a ringmaster. The area that is now our new Foreign Language room was fondly referred to as the hall of many doors, because it housed at least ten small closets where the Masons would go to change into their robes. The church next door (now the site of our fabulous new Arts and Athletics Center) was a thriving congregation of patient neighbors, who tried very hard not to think mean thoughts when MSD parents would “steal” parking in the “Church Parking Only” spots, when spaces were scarce during drop-off or at special events.
Over the next several years, the school grew and changed and so did my children. The year that the Community Building underwent the first round of renovations, my son Jamie turned ten years old. The year we built the library in 2003, my son Conor turned thirteen. The year we added drama as a special in 2008, my daughter Allegra turned fifteen. Now, in 2014, as we are knee deep in our transformational Master Plan, they are all grown up.
The children who were three years old when I became Head of School fourteen years ago are now seventeen and no doubt applying to college. The transformation that has taken place with these children and my own brood is as awe-inspiring as the transformation that has taken place at MSD.As the new MSD campus nears completion, this moment in time will be marked by the transformation to come of our 300 children who currently run and play within.
Welcome to the Incubator, a spot to reflect on dynamic thoughts and diverse experiences that inform, influence, and inspire our good work at the Montessori School of Denver.
As I was contemplating this first post I found myself standing at the edge of a cliff, on my skis, in Crested Butte. It was a slope I had never intended to ski. In fact, I had ended up in that spot by taking a number of different turns through a forest of trees, thinking I was headed somewhere completely different. But suddenly there I was, on the precipice, of a very scary cliff. No way to go back the way I came. No place to go but down. As I got up my courage and looked for a good place to make the first turn (as a skier you know that the first turn is always the hardest) I suddenly remembered the advice of a good friend, now gone, whose philosophy was to always move forward, embracing not only the opportunities that come your way, but also the challenges. She would never hesitate to jump in, because as she saw it, without having the courage to move forward, you would never be rewarded with the riches of having conquered something extraordinary. And she often said to me “Don’t be Afraid.”
Over the past several years when faced with uncertainty and risk, I’ve often thought of my friend and her unwavering courageous spirit. And as I stood looking over the edge of that cliff, wondering how I was going to get down, I knew that this was a moment for me to heed her words and leap forward with fortitude. This was a moment to “not be afraid.”
Possessing courage in the face of uncertainty is a distinguishing trait of the many folks who have led MSD throughout the years. In 1964 a small group of parents were undaunted as they started a brand new school, with no certainty that what they set in motion would ultimately become a model for Montessori and independent school education. Now, as we propel forward with our transformational master plan, we are on the brink of something extraordinary. The spirit of those who came before us, and indeed my friend, lives on. As our school celebrates its 50th birthday, we are inspired by their willingness to leap.